Hurricane Katrina

11/21/2008: 12:27 am: Everything Else, Hurricane Katrina

For the last month or so I’ve been playing around with Arduino (“open-source electronics prototyping platform “) and Processing (“open source programming language and environment for people who want to program images, animation, and interactions”). Both are very, very cool. The Arduino programming environment is based on Processing, so learning both isn’t much extra effort.

Processing book cover

So far with Processing I’ve mostly been working with existing code examples to talk to code I’ve written that runs on the Atmel microcontroller on the Arduino board. I’ve lately been hacking with the Minim library for working with audio, inspired by a link on someone’s Twitter feed to someone else’s experiment with Minim and an Arduino. I’ve cleaned up and reformatted his code in my own fetishistic manner, and now I’m looking to extend it. After all, I’ve got a pile of LEDs begging to be soldered to something.

Arduino Diecimila board

On the Arduino front, I’ve been working my way through Ladyada’s tutorial and the first couple of chapters of Tom Igoe’s book, Making Things Talk. At first I was kind of annoyed when I realized how incomplete the explanations where for some of the projects. But then I decided that that just motivated me more to figure things out for myself. And they’re really not that incomplete, anyway.

Arduinos are quite inexpensive, so if you’re the least bit motivated to combine your programming experience with some basic electronic hardware hacking, I highly recommend checking them out. I bought most of my gear from Adafruit and Spark Fun.

7/22/2008: 8:37 pm: Hurricane Katrina, Python

While analyzing a bunch of US Census data at work to build out an even more comprehensive geographical database for Voxify’s speech apps, I ran into an unexpected error. I wrote a Python script to parse a CSV file that contains population data from 2000 and estimates for 2001-2007. The code extracted the data I was interested in, cleaned it up to remove extraneous data and inserted it into a MySQL database. But, my program got an error when it was inserting the population data for Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

Apparently, the US Census team was so uncertain of the post Katrina population in Bay St. Louis they used a “Z” in place of a number for 2006 and 2007. They did the same for Pass Christian, Long Beach and Waveland. So then I decided to look at their estimates for nearby cities.

Ocean Springs17,57316,81317,246
New Orleans453,726210,198239,124

The population decrease in New Orleans has been written about quite a bit, but it is still startling to see the numbers next to each other. I don’t remember seeing population data for the Mississippi coastal cities.

I had been looking for an excuse to play around with the Google Charts API. Here’s a graph of the population decreases for some of the cities.

Population decrease for Gulfport, Biloxi, and Ocean Springs

3/28/2007: 8:21 am: Hurricane Katrina

Some parts of Biloxi look to have substantially recovered from Hurricane Katrina. Other parts don’t look much changed from when I visited in December 2005. However, the Mississippi Gulf Coast seems to be recovering faster than Louisiana.

There was a big difference in what I saw in Biloxi and Gulfport from what I later observed in Slidell and New Orleans East. Most of the damaged homes and businesses in Mississippi have been razed and the debris removed. While this leaves a demoralizing patch of concrete slabs in some locations, at least the area looks ready to rebuild.

In Louisiana, I saw many neighborhoods that still appeared to be uninhabitable ghost towns. From a distance, the houses looked okay. But, as I got closer, I realized I could see through the houses because they were mostly empty on the inside. When I did come upon houses with cars or trucks out front, I usually also saw a trailer out front or in the backyard.

Many houses in Mississippi were severaly damaged by winds and storm surge (many more by wind than the insurance companies are willing to admit). The water damage was generally from fast moving waves. Not long after the storm ended, the waters retreated back down the rivers, bays, and beaches into the Gulf of Mexico.

In Louisana, the winds weren’t nearly as strong and the storm surge was not nearly as bad. However, due to the lower elevation, the flood waters slowly rose up to fill houses many feet deep. Instead of the walls being knocked down, the houses slowly drowned over several days.

One result is that the houses in Louisiana often look more salvageable from the outside than the ones in Mississippi, but they really aren’t. Many of them can probably be gutted and rebuilt inside the existing structure, but many of the structures have been so damaged from sitting for days in flood waters that the frames have been weakened. Next time, a less strong wind could do a lot more damage to these houses.

Here are some of the pictures I took along Highway 90 in Biloxi and Gulfport. The first photo is of the Frank Gehry designed Ohr-O’Keefe Museum in Biloxi. They do still plan to build it, but obviously there is still a long way to go.

Frank Gehry designed Ohr-O'Keefe Museum On the beach Across Higway 90

3/24/2007: 11:04 pm: Food and Drink, Hurricane Katrina

I was back in Biloxi at the beginning of March to visit my mother on her birthday. While there, of course, I had to partake in one of my all time favorite meals, the shrimp po-boy. This is a very simple meal, just some medium-sized fried shrimp with shredded lettuce, sliced tomato, and mayonnaise on a long, crusty roll. Medium sized shrimp is key. Small shrimp leave you with too much batter. Large can be okay, but jumbo shrimp make the sandwich unbalanced and too hard to eat. Ideal is two to three shrimp per bite. For example, check out this near perfect example below from Schooner’s in Biloxi:

shrimp po-boy

Now, if you’re on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, you can also get Barq’s in a bottle, like you see in the background of the picture. While Barq’s is pretty tasty from a can, it’s even better from a thick glass bottle. The cup to the left once held some delicious gumbo.

I also had a shrimp po-boy at Li’l Ray’s in Gulfport. They also serve a mean gumbo and a delicious shrimp po-boy, but I would have to rate Schooner’s above theirs.

The Ole Biloxi Schooner Seafood Restaurant was wiped out in Hurricane Katrina (which is nearly always referred to in Biloxi as simply “The Storm”). The old location was down by the IP Casino. Their new location is further west on Howard Avenue.

Old sign for Schooner's Interior at Schooner's

8/18/2006: 12:01 am: Hurricane Katrina

Hurrican Katrina wasn’t bad for everybody. Super-sized contractors like Bechtel and Halliburton have found the Katrina clean-up work to be a great source of funds to make up for the contracts they lost in Iraq due to overcharging and general incompetence. CorpWatch has a lot of good info (Disaster Profiteering on the Gulf Coast story and the key findings).

Not only are these companies generally doing very poor jobs, the local companies who really need the work either get locked out of the bidding are end up having to be sub-contractors or even sub-sub-contractors. After the big guys take their huge margins, the local companies end up barely covering their costs.

One of CorpWatch’s key findings concerned debris removal and the tarps put on roofs.

Abusive “contracting pyramids” that leave the actual subcontractors doing the work with only a tiny amount of the money paid by the federal government. 

If you had read the comments from workers (and from the greedy contractor) on my previous post about Operation Blue Roof, this finding won’t be much of a surprise.

2/20/2006: 8:15 pm: Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita

I’ve uploaded many photos to my website gallery and to this blog, but Hurricane Katrina has made me realize just how important it is to use my website to backup the photos on only one of my computers and the photo prints I have still yet to scan. Although Dreamhost’s servers are in earthquake country in Los Angeles, as least it’s far enough away from the San Francisco Bay area that if something happens in Oakland, my photos will be safe in L. A. Obviously, I also have backups of what is on the website, so I am protected if something happens down south.

When you ask most people what they would save if they had to leave their home in an emergency, photographs tend to be pretty high on the list. Though it’s always nice to have original prints, digital copies on a web server make for a pretty convenient backup. The important thing, though, is not too wait. Even though you have more advance warning with a hurricane, you’re almost certainly going to be too busy packing up and evacuating to spend a couple of hours preparing and uploading photos.

1/19/2006: 12:24 am: Hurricane Katrina

St. Michael’s church along the Biloxi beach also suffered a violent blow from Hurricane Katrina. While the upper parts of the church, including much of the stained glass windows that go all the way around the building, mostly survived, nearly everything from about eight feet down was washed away.

Inside of St. Michael's church

This bell was near the front of the church.

Bell outside of St. Michael's church

1/14/2006: 12:22 am: Hurricane Katrina

Remains of the Gulf Coast Maritime and Seafood Museum

One of the many tragic outcomes of Hurricane Katrina has been the destruction of the historical treasures of Biloxi. Fortunately, many of these artifacts had been photographed because they were publicly accessible in the Gulf Coast Maritime and Seafood Museum. Of course, being located at the Museum put the artifacts directly in the path of the hurricane, but it’s likely that if they weren’t in the museum, they would have been in nearby buildings or houses that were also destroyed. Hopefully, enough high resolution photos were taken of the exhibits that some can be faithfully recreated, or at least made available via high quality prints.

Chunks of concrete and rebar twisted into a ball of about six feet in diameter

The above photo makes it clear just how powerful the destructive force of a storm sturge can be. Several squares of concrete full of rebar were ripped up into a big ball as if they had been sheets of paper and thin copper wire.

Thick metal pole bent over from about 2 feet off the ground

This metal light pole next to the museum was completely bent over almost from the base. Although it’s possible the wind could have done this, I think it is quite likely the storm sturge knocked it over. Imagine what it would have been like to have tried to ride out a storm of this power after beig washed out of a building. Unfortunately, this was a reality for quite a few people, and many of them did not survive.

12/29/2005: 3:52 pm: Hurricane Katrina

This image has appeared in a lot of stories on Biloxi after Hurricane Katrina. The Golden Fisherman statue was originally located in downtown Biloxi in the mid 1970’s and was widely mocked at the time, perhaps because of the imagery of a fisherman casting a net into what was then a mostly run-down urban area. Sometime later, the statue was moved to the foot of the Biloxi – Ocean Springs bridge, in front of the Gulf Coast Maritime and Seafood Museum.

Golden Fisherman statue knocked off pedestal onto ground

Since then, dowtown Biloxi has actually made a significant recovery. Of course, the hurricane has set the downtown back quite a few years, but I think it will recover from the damage.

I went to the Christmas in the City festival in the Vieux Marche mall while I was in Biloxi. A lot of artists and craftspeople had works for sale. Moran Art Studios was there with prints of a few of Joe Moran’s works. My mother and I talked to Mary Moran briefly. She said they are looking into reopening, at least temporarily, in a store in Ocean Springs. Their old spot has now been leveled twice by hurricanes, so they aren’t sure they want to rebuild again. I certainly hope things work out for them. Elizabeth Huffmaster also had some very nice prints and original watercolors.

Update 5/2/2007: I just found out from one of the commenters below that the statue was stolen last June, but then recovered. Here are some links to info about the theft.

12/20/2005: 1:13 am: Hurricane Katrina

Point Cadet is one of the saddest sections to visit in Biloxi. At one point, we drove past three city blocks in which not a single building was left standing. This neighborhood with a deep, rich cultural heritage was once filled with many homes and businesses that survived Hurricane Camille. In the satellite photos after the hurricane, I saw block after block of piles of lumber and debris. Now that most of the debris has been hauled away, all that is left are a few concrete slabs and some scraggly oak trees. Many of the slabs were either washed away or were so badly damaged that they couldn’t be reused.

The oak trees look so strange and lonely standing on barren blocks of dirt and grass. The large lower limbs were snapped off by the water and the upper reaches and most of the small limbs, leaves, and Spanish moss were stripped away by the winds. The remaining, twisted limbs are covered with small sprouts and leaves. The block with these oak trees was formally filled with houses.

Damaged oak trees

In this photo, you can see a badly damaged seafood processing plant off in the distance beyond the Palace casino, which is still listing into the water. At the closest edge of the casino barge, the first floor appears to be mostly or completely submerged.

Palace Casino and seafood processing plant

Some of the destroyed casino barges have been broken down, but several remain. A bit down from the Point, the Grand casino still sits on top of the former Tullis-Toledano manor. The Tullis-Toledano manor is one of the many beautiful, historical buildings on the Coast that were destroyed during the hurricane.

Grand Casino on former spot of Tullis-Toledano manor

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